Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Jim Hood has an expensive wish list for K-12 education that could hit taxpayers right in the wallet.

Hood told the Associated Press that he not only wants state-funded pre-kindergarten, but also at least a $3,000 teacher pay hike and full funding for the state’s education funding formula.

Total cost of just those three items could total at least $574.2 million annually and this revenue would either have to come from cuts to other state agencies, tax increases or both.

According to the MDE’s budget request for fiscal 2021, full funding for K-12 education represents about $2.554 billion in general fund revenues. Last year, the legislature appropriated $2.245 billion for K-12 from the general fund, a difference of $332 million. 

Each year, the Mississippi Department of Education uses the MAEP to calculate how much of an appropriation it needs from taxpayers to distribute to local school districts. Fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding formula would represent a 23 percent increase in general fund appropriations. 

Hood said that he wanted not only a $3,000 pay increase for teachers phased in over two years, but also percentage increases to the salary raises that most teachers receive every year. 

The legislature passed a $1,500 pay hike in the last session that will cost $76.9 million per year and will have to be fully funded with a deficit appropriation when the legislature returns to session in January. 

A $4,500 pay hike, which includes what the legislature approved last year and Hood is proposing, would cost taxpayers an additional $230.7 million per year once it was completely implemented. 

Pre-Kindergarten, according to Hood, for around 23,000 4-year-olds would cost about $45 million over four years. Several studies have shown that massive spending on pre-K doesn’t guarantee better outcomes for elementary students as compared with those who don’t attend pre-K.

The MAEP amount isn’t legally binding for appropriators, thanks to a 2017 state Supreme Court decision, and it’s only been fully funded twice in the last 20 years. 

The formula consists of average daily attendance times base student cost, plus at-risk component minus local contribution plus 8 percent guarantee. Then, only after add-on programs — transportation, special education, gifted education, vocational education and alternative education — are added to the formula allocation, is the final MAEP funding request calculated.

Put another way, just the increase in K-12 funding alone would exceed the appropriations for:

  • Debt service — $385.2 million.
  • Corrections — $316.5 million.
  • Department of Mental Health — $213.7 million.
  • Military, Police and Veterans’ affairs — $120.7 million.